This movie stayed with me, in the way a kielbasa can be said to “stay with you” when you toss it after a night of binging on Jever at the Bohemian Beer Garden. I wrote one grouchy reviewlet for About.com, mainly about Eva Green, and to this day, the hate mail keeps coming. The funny thing is, if I trash an obscure French movie, nobody cares, but James Bond? Uh oh: attacks left and right— and that’s just the public insults. With a blizzard hitting New York, I gave Casino Royale another chance. And guess what? It doesn’t look nearly as good at home as it did at the Ziegfeld, and it’s still a disappointment.

It didn’t have to be that way. Bond 21 starts out great and shows the potential to become the best in decades. Craig’s a sexy brute, he’s got chemistry and snappy dialogue with Eva Green, stunts and plot are down-to-earth, the villain (After the Wedding‘s Mads Mikkelsen) is creepy but believable. With the most human touch since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale reinvents the iconic character and almost manages to transcend the franchise’s formulas.

Almost. In the final third, somewhere around the time an Aston Martin flips on a country road and the main villain gets whacked by someone who is not our hero, the movie flies out of control and wrecks, too. Maybe it’s the poker-table poisoning, which doesn’t move the story along one bit, or perhaps it’s the dull respite on Lake Como— but if you expected a grand finale, you’re in for a letdown: there’s lots of gambling left after Bond defilibrates himself, but the only remaining action scene is a rummy fistfight in a collapsing building.

And what about Vesper? A real Bond woman, finally, but she’s killed off in a way that makes no sense. She betrayed Bond but also saved his life, so he can be sad and angry at the same time? I suspect that Paul Haggis, listed as third screenwriter, is responsible for botching this. After all, Crash is full of stuff that doesn’t add up. If somebody could explain to me why exactly Vesper has to die, I would be most grateful.

Until then, sad and angry is how I feel about the last half hour of the Casino Royale. A lot of critics and irate critics-of-critics seem to react to what this movie could have been rather than the wasted opportunity it turned out to be. Casino Royale is and always will be a two star movie.

Casino Royale. Martin Campbell, 2006. **